SMEs need more artificial intelligence competence

Koodeja ja naisen kasvot
Artificial intelligence will transform processing industry, health care, customer service, writing and film dubbing. The hype around artificial intelligence has been huge and expectations of its effects on business operations have been at least equally high. Despite all the hype, use of artificial intelligence is still low in SMEs.

– Companies accumulate a lot of data these days. SMEs however need more competence and practical examples of how artificial intelligence helps in benefitting from the data, says Senior Lecturer Kari Naakka from Tampere University of Applied Sciences’ School of Industrial Engineering.

AI ambassador demonstrates benefits of artificial intelligence

The joint AI Ambassador project of TAMK and the University of Turku’s School of Economics develops SMEs’ data mining abilities and understanding of artificial intelligence possibilities in the Tampere Region and Southwestern Finland.

– The AI ambassador is a key person in the company; an employee who identifies the project-related development task and advances it in the company, tells Naakka, who leads the project in the Tampere Region

Kari Naakka seisoo ja katsoo kameraan
Kari Naakka

The project includes joint workshops for the participating companies’ ambassadors and sparring of each company by project specialists.

– In SMEs, effects easily remain too small and progress too slow without any support measures and experiments. AI ambassadors offer companies more competence and perspectives on benefits of artificial intelligence, says the University of Turku’s Senior Lecturer Antti Tuomisto, who is in charge of the project in Southwestern Finland.

When the artificial intelligence lessons have been learnt and development tasks tutored during the one-year process, it is the AI ambassadors’ turn to test the ideas in practice.

– The aim is that companies can see the potential benefits through rapid experiments and consider if large-scale implementation is profitable now, next year or if it is best to abandon the idea for the time being and direct investments elsewhere. If ambassadors know after the year what to do with artificial intelligence next, we have succeeded in implementing the AI ambassador model, Tuomisto sums the project objectives.

Artificial intelligence makes the most of data

The range of companies is wide in the first groups which began in summer 2021. There are companies from all fields from software houses to service field companies. The companies’ competence in artificial intelligence issues also varies.

– Some participating companies already have a lot of competence but they want to deepen their competence especially in development of artificial intelligence. There are also companies which do not yet have the competence but which are willing to grow their understanding of the topic in order to develop their business based on data, states Naakka.

All the companies already have data. The data is almost without exception in an easily processable electronic form, such as databases. The aim is to consider and test how to use it better.

– There is not necessarily even need for a huge amount of good-quality data. If the company has enough sales and booking data, by means of data analytics it is possible to find characteristics and cause and effect relations which cannot be seen otherwise. People then create the meaning for the new information in business activities, specifies Tuomisto.

Antti Tuomisto.
Antti Tuomisto

An ambassador network as an objective

A total of four ambassador groups are established during the two-year project; a group in Turku and a group in Tampere this and next year. The project aims at creating long-term cooperation between the ambassadors and artificial intelligence companies and disseminating information and experiences.

– The objective is that after the process the ambassadors and participating companies join a network to share their experiences in an atmosphere of trust and partnership, Tuomisto states.

Naakka and Tuomisto welcome all interested companies to join. Even if there is not yet or not anymore need for a personal AI ambassador, companies can participate in the joint workshops and tell about their experiences.

– Completed experiments can also be opened in the group without telling about business details. In software development, people are already used to giving and receiving help through different forums and discussion communities. We aim at creating such a thinking in the AI ambassador network too, says Naakka.

The AI Ambassador project is a joint two-year ESF project of Tampere University of Applied Sciences and the University of Turku’s School of Economics. The project is funded by Sustainable growth and jobs 2014-2020 of Finland’s structural funds programme.

Further information: Kari Naakka, Senior Lecturer, School of Industrial Engineering, kari.naakka [at]

Article by: Helena Pekkarinen

Pictures: Main picture – Pixabay, Kari Naakka – TAMK's IT department, Antti Tuomisto – Antti's archive

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